[Gary] George lies on the operating table. The heart monitor - flat lined. A doctor and nurses frantically try to resuscitate him.
Yet, George is somehow still conscious. He feels like he is floating above his body - watching the scene with curiosity. He is suddenly drawn into a tunnel toward a powerful light where he feels peace and an intense sense of being loved. He wants to stay, but George is told "it is not your time." A nurse shouts, "He's back."
Today, we're going to look at "Near Death Experiences and the Bible."
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[Gary] Millions of people have had near-death experiences, or NDEs, similar to the one I just described. They tell of meeting Jesus or descending into a horrible, burning hell. Others come face to face with the Hindu god of death or find themselves in a happy place surrounded by lost pets.
Over the past years, a number of books describing these experiences have actually become best sellers.
One best seller, Heaven is for Real , records the story of a four-year-old who, while on the operating table, experienced a trip to heaven. Saw Jesus riding a rainbow-colored horse, and met his miscarried sister who no one had actually told him about.
In 2012, Dr. Eban Alexander wrote about his experience while in a meningitis-induced coma. In Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon's Journey into the Afterlife , Dr. Alexander writes that the intense incident changed him from being a skeptic to a believer in God and the afterlife.
Years ago, actress Elizabeth Taylor described her near-death experience in an interview on ABC:
> You've talked about twice, having a near-death experience. Does it mean you don't fear it anymore?
>> I don't fear it. Because when I was on the other side - like in the tunnel and was with Mike - it was so beautiful. And, warm, and the light was so welcoming. And I held onto him and he said you have to go back. You have things to do and I'll be here.
[Gary] The interest in near-death experiences has become a social phenomenon and source of debate. Heaven is for Real has spawned at least one book asserting that the little boy's claims are actually anti-biblical. Numerous websites are dedicated to recording the similarities and differences of NDEs among Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, even atheists.
Now, there are scientists who believe they have an answer for NDEs. Dr. Sam Parnia, Director of the Awareness during Resuscitation Study is the author of the ground-breaking book Erasing Death: The Science That Is Rewriting the Boundaries Between Life and Death . Now, he concludes that death is a process that can be interrupted well after it has begun. Dr. Parnia claims that many near-death experiences may just be the function of the human brain while still working after the heart and lungs have stopped.
In a BBC interview, Dr. Pernia talked about his research into near-death experiences. He said, "People from all over the world in essence describe the same universal experience, but the interpretation of what they see depends on their own belief system" (BBC News, Apr. 23, 2013).
While many people describe similar near-death experiences, there can be major differences. Some people claim to see Jesus; others simply see light, a Hindu god, or sometimes family members who have died. A few have gone to what they describe as hell or have even met the devil.
So, what do we make of these near-death experiences? Do these experiences reveal the mainstream Christian idea of heaven and hell or an Eastern religious ideal of universal consciousness? Maybe science - does it supply the answer?
Here on Beyond Today it is our mission to search the Bible as God's revealed knowledge about life and the afterlife.
The Bible says little about near-death experiences, but it does record a number of incidents where people actually died and were resurrected back to physical life. One example is when Jesus resurrected His friend Lazarus. This biblical account isn't an example of resuscitation. Lazarus was dead for four days before having life come back into his physical body.
Now, here is what is profound. There is no biblical recording of Lazarus sharing any experience of heaven, or actually, he doesn't share anything that happened to him while he was dead. In fact, when we look at all of the biblical cases where a person was resurrected back to physical life, the Bible is silent about their personal experiences while dead. This may seem strange, since a resurrected person would be the perfect witness for God to show us what it is like in the afterlife. The witnesses seem to have nothing to tell us. Of course this really doesn't solve our problem, does it?
Are there any near-death experiences recorded in the Bible?
Some people say that 2 Corinthians:12:1-4 describes an NDE. The apostle Paul describes an experience he had. So let's look at what Paul wrote: "It is doubtless not profitable for me to boast. I will come to visions and revelations of the Lord..." Paul says, "I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago - whether in the body I do not know, or whether out of the body I do not know, God knows - such a one was caught up to the third heaven. And I know such a man - whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows - how he was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter."
Now if you read these verses in context, Paul is writing about himself. The "third heaven" and "Paradise" refer to the throne of God. Paul says that in a vision he was taken to God's throne. Now he also says that he wasn't sure if he was in his body or out of his body. Now this is similar to what some people describe as a near-death experience.
But notice, Paul doesn't write that he was in a near-death experience when he had this vision. He simply says that he had a vision, or dream, of heaven.
So, except for this vague instance mentioned by Paul, the Bible gives us no information about near-death experiences. So in the light of Paul's vision of the third heaven, let's look at what he taught about death and the afterlife.
In 1 Thessalonians 4, Paul wrote - now listen to this: "I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus" (1 Thessalonians:4:13-14).
Paul makes two important points:
One, he describes death as a state like sleep.
Secondly, he writes that those who are disciples of Jesus will be with Him when He returns.
Now, the idea that death is like a state of sleep isn't something new to Paul's teachings. A few minutes ago we talked about how Jesus resurrected Lazarus from the dead. Now let's go back and read something Jesus said to His disciples.
When Jesus was about to go to Bethany, the town where Lazarus lived, He said to His disciples, "Our friend Lazarus sleeps, but I go that I may wake him up." Now of course the disciples thought that sleep was good for Lazarus because it would help him get better, get well. But John writes, "However, Jesus spoke of his death, but they thought He was speaking about rest in sleep. Then Jesus said to them plainly, Lazarus is dead" (John:11:11-14).
Jesus didn't say that Lazarus had gone to heaven, but that he was in an unconscious state like sleep. Jesus and Paul agree on this.
So, we're going to take a closer look at Paul's teachings in 1 Thessalonians 4, but first let me tell you about what we want to give you absolutely free.
Our easy to read study guide, What Happens After Death? will help you understand what the Bible reveals about why God gave you life and why human beings die . Death isn't the final answer. Eternal life is being offered to you by the Creator . There's even a section on how to deal with grief .
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So let's turn to Paul's writings in 1 Thessalonians 4.
He says, "But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus" (1 Thessalonians:4:13-14).
Now notice what he says here. He compared death to sleep. We find this throughout Paul's writings. Now remember, he is writing 1 Thessalonians many, many years after his experience where he had this in the body, out of the body, he wasn't sure what happened experience of seeing heaven - a vision of heaven. Let's continue.
"For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep" (1 Thessalonians:4:15).
In other words, when Christ returns, there is going to be something that happens to both those who are dead and asleep, and those who are alive and are disciples who are waiting for Jesus' return.
Now in verse 16 he says, "For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are [alive] and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord." And then he says, "Therefore comfort one another with these words" (1 Thessalonians:4:16-18).
Now remember, Paul's vision of heaven occurred years before he wrote 1 Thessalonians. That personal experience didn't change his teachings on death as a state like sleep. Now this doesn't mean of course that Paul didn't believe in an afterlife. He's saying that the afterlife doesn't come until Jesus returns! In 1 Thessalonians He wrote about Christ's followers being with Him at His prophesied return.
Now, if death is like sleep, what will it be like to awake in the resurrection that Paul tells us about in 1 Thessalonians?
Now this question is answered by Paul himself in the incredible passage of 1 Corinthians 15 known as the "resurrection chapter."
Now let's pick this up in verse 35: "But someone will say, ‘How are the dead raised up?'" This would be a natural question for those who lived in Corinth. They were basically Greeks. They had a Greek background. They believed in the immortality of the soul, that you died and you went to Hades, and that you were a disembodied spirit. But, that's not what Paul said. He said there is a resurrection. So they naturally ask, okay, what is the body like?
His answer is, "Foolish one, what you sow is not made alive [unless] it dies."
He goes on to explain what he means by that. "There are also celestial bodies and terrestrial bodies; but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another. There is one glory of the sun, another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars..." (1 Corinthians:15:35-41)
Here is what Paul is saying. He says you want to understand the difference between the body you have now and the body in the resurrection, look at the difference between the sun and the moon. Now Paul wasn't making some kind of scientific statement here, he is just making an observation. But knowing what we know today, it is even more profound. The sun generates its own light. The moon, well it's just a rock that reflects light. That's really all we are today. We are creatures that reflect light but there comes a time when we will be like the sun.
That's why he says, "So also is the resurrection of the dead. The body is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption. It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body." Now notice what he says - "it is raised a spiritual body." And then he makes this statement: "There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body" (1 Corinthians:15:42-44).
A lot of people don't believe in spiritual body. They believe that when we die, we become disembodied spirits floating through time and space. But that's not what the apostle Paul taught. There is a spiritual body. Now when does this take place? This resurrection into this spiritual body, that we know a little bit about because we know about Jesus Christ.
Remember Jesus Christ when He appeared after His resurrection, He ate with His disciples. He said touch me. They could feel Him. And then He turned around and walked through the wall! That's amazing when you think about that. That's the body. That's what life will be like for those in this resurrection. When does it happen?
Well, he continues a little later in this passage. "Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does corruption inherit incorruption. Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed - in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality" (1 Corinthians:15:50-53).
You see, near-death experiences may feel real, but those subjective experiences are not the biblical explanation of death. We find that throughout the Bible that death is described like a state of sleep. Those who are true disciples of Jesus Christ are resurrected at His prophesied return to establish God's Kingdom on this earth. In the book of Revelation this is called the first resurrection. The free study guide, What Happens After Death? will help you discover the biblical truth about death and the resurrection.
So you need a copy of What Happens After Death? It can help you solve many of your nagging questions about near-death experiences, what is death and the hope of the resurrection. You can read What Happens After Death? online at BeyondToday.tv . Or request your free copy to be sent to your home by calling: 1-888-886-8632. Remember that number: 1-888-886-8632.
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We've been talking about the subject of near-death experiences and what happens after we die. Well we're joined by fellow Beyond Today hosts, Darris McNeely and Steve Myers.
You know guys, near-death experiences are very intense experiences for those who go through them. We understand that. But can they really teach us anything about what the Bible says about death, heaven and the resurrection?
[Steve] Well I think it depends on what we do with those experiences or those thoughts, when we read those - we hear about those things. What do you do with that? Do you just take that for granted that that's the truth and that must be real, and that must be what God has to say about death or near-death experiences?
I think we better take those experiences and look into our Bibles. Check those experiences that people claim to have had - no matter how vivid they may be - and see, is that what Jesus Christ actually talked about when He taught about death. If we don't compare those things, then we might believe anything that comes along. So I think it's very important: where do we base our truth on? Do we base it on someone's story or do we base it on what our Savior Jesus Christ Himself taught? And I think that's what it has got to come down to. What is truth? What is truth? And what do we claim to be basing our life on? Is it the truth that Jesus Christ Himself taught or somebody's story?
[Darris] Well Gary, let's just take what you asked there. Do they tell us anything about heaven? The answer is no.
So many of the stories that people come back with to describe whatever their experience may be. They - maybe they see a light. They go through a long tunnel. They are in a field of flowers. They see someone who they - a loved one. Someone tells them that it's alright. They have these desperate-type stories that don't make any serious connection to what even the Bible does say about heaven, and the Bible does say certain things about the heavens - it being the throne of God and where God is - but not anything about that being the reward of the saved.
People come back from these experiences and their stories cannot be stitched together into a narrative. So they don't even add up logically as you read them from all the different people. And they certainly don't add up to what the Bible does tell us about the throne of God, about the idea of a third heaven, and there's nothing there to base it on. So, we really come away with nothing.
One person who had one of the near-death experiences came back, had to talk about it, and was very intent for a period of time in talking and talking. After a couple of years, as he said, he had to put it away. He didn't really know anything more than what he had known before the experience. He still couldn't connect the dots and figure it out.
The Bible helps us to connect the dots about this life and the life that is to come through a resurrection - which is completely different than anything that is foretold or even pretended through a near-death experience.
[Gary] I think that's part of the problem. People come into this subject with preconceived ideas. So they believe that experience proves that when you die you go to heaven. And yet, what the Bible teaches is something different. Both Jesus and Paul clearly taught it was sleep! Or a state like sleep. And in fact, it's supposed to affect our lives.
I mean, understanding what Jesus and Paul taught, as opposed to what mainstream Christianity believes, how can that affect your life?
[Steve] Well I think it has to affect your life. You go back to, what do you believe and what do you count as truth. The fact is - John:3:13, Jesus Christ Himself said no one has ascended to heaven. So, to claim a near-death experience proves that you go to heaven when you die, contradicts the plain teaching of Jesus Christ. So what are you going to believe? Not that you are going to say, well this didn't happen to this person. Or they didn't feel this was what truly happened to them. I can't explain that. I don't know what happened to them. I know they didn't go to heaven because Christ Himself says, no one has ascended.
So, you have got to look at what do I base my truth on? And if I am going to base it on the truth of the Bible, the truth of God's Word, which Christ says, that's what you need to do. You need to base it on the truth of God. He says, Thy Word is truth. John:17:17 says that so clearly. So if His Word is truth, then I have to base my life on the truth of His Word.
[Darris] You know what people experience in this idea of a near-death experience, doesn't measure up to many other things as well. It's a near death but it is not death. It's like that line from the movie, Mostly Dead . Well, you're either dead or you're not. Near death means that you don't die. There is something that happens. I don't deny that. But they don't, a person who comes back from it, doesn't even match up to the biblical records that do tell us about even a resurrection.
Lazarus - you mentioned - the friend of Jesus who died, he did die, and he was resurrected. In that case, it was to a physical resurrection. But these experiences don't even match up to that because there's no death, therefore there is no resurrection. And again, it doesn't square with what the Bible does tell us about life and about death. And one other important point Gary, this also doesn't really square with what the Bible does tell us this life is all about.
This life is about preparing for a life to come with Christ through a resurrection; into the family of God, into the Kingdom of God as spirit beings in a completely different world than what we have now, on this earth. And this life is to help us prepare for that. When you understand that, then the idea of a near-death experience can be easily categorized or placed in its proper position, and it is nowhere near what the Bible does tell us about the purpose of life today.
Those experiences do not help one prepare for what the Bible shows our life is to be in God's Kingdom. This life today is a preparation ground for that. And when you understand that, then you can place any type of an experience that a person might legitimately have - if they go through one of these so-called near-death experiences - as for what they really are, an experience that is unique but nowhere near anything that the Bible describes.
[Gary] Well of course the apostle Paul even says he saw a vision of heaven.
[Darris] He had a vision.
[Gary] And 14 years later, he is still teaching that death is a sleep-like…
[Gary] Sleep-like state.
[Darris] No consciousness.
[Gary] No consciousness and that you are waiting for the resurrection. So it didn't change; his experience didn't change his teaching.
[Steve] That's right.
[Gary] Now, but he also said in Thessalonians that this knowledge, this understanding, should bring comforting. Now he didn't say don't grieve when someone dies. He says, but don't grieve as others who don't understand this. So how can this knowledge bring comfort?
[Steve] I think it reveals so much insight into God's plan. What is God's purpose? Jesus Christ is going to return and the apostle Paul taught that we would have a resurrection like Jesus Christ - Romans:6:5 talks about that. That we can look forward to a time when Christ returns, we will be resurrected, and we are to live and reign and rule with Christ. And Revelation 20 talks about that. And so, there is a purpose behind what God is doing. And that purpose is that we can be children of God living in His Kingdom when He returns, and so death isn't the end of the story. Even though we are sleeping, we are awaiting that time of the resurrection when Christ returns.
[Darris] The apostle Paul wrote what he did in Thessalonians and he said, comfort one another with these words. When we go to the house of mourning, when we face death of a loved one, or even maybe facing it ourselves, we are looking for comfort. And that can only be based on truth. Christ said the truth shall make you free - free from worry, free from guilt, and free from fear. That is where the comfort comes from. It has to be anchored in truth, the truth of Scripture.
[Gary] This is an amazing truth and we want to share it with you. Remember today's free offers. The Good News magazine will help you discover God's path to a better marriage, having a meaningful relationship with your Creator, and how to make sense of biblical prophecy in light of today's news.
What Happens after Death? is a must-have study guide. If you struggle with the age old questions of: what happens after death, is there an afterlife, and what do near-death experiences show us about the afterlife, then you need to order your free copy.
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Near-death experiences are intense for people who have them, but these subjective experiences are not the biblical explanation of death. Paul, who had an "out of body" vision of heaven, taught that death is a sleep-like state until the resurrection of the dead. The first of the prophesied resurrections take place at the return of Jesus Christ when the "dead in Christ" will awake and rise to meet their Savior.
Understanding this great truth can change your life and give you hope in God's love and plan for humanity.
Join us next week on Beyond Today as we continue to discover the good news of the Kingdom of God. We also invite you to join us in praying, "Thy Kingdom come." For Beyond Today I'm Gary Petty. Thanks for watching.
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